It’s been a record wet year across the Midwest, but pockets of Nebraska and Iowa have experienced a dry period, and crops are showing stress in the summer heat.
Nebraska and Kansas have had the wettest year on record, according to data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota have been much wetter than average over the last year.
Kentucky state climatologist called in a “remarkably” wet period, not just for the last 12 months but throughout the last decade. He presented a climate outlook via webinar July 18.
While wet conditions persist, some farmers are praying for rain.
As of July 25, Nathan Mueller recorded nine-tenths of an inch of rain in the last month on his field near Scribner, Neb. He’s seen corn leaves rolling in the heat by 10 a.m., and dry soil with cracks more than an inch wide.
It was a 180-flip from a wet spring that brought historic floods and rain every three days.
“Some people call that a flash drought,” Mueller said.
He covers Dodge, Washington, Burt and Cumming counties as agronomist for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. The pocket of northeastern Nebraska has missed out on July rains.
Late-planted crops and previously wet conditions add to the problem, according to Dennis Todey, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, Iowa.
Wet, compacted soils can limit root growth, he said. On top of that, roots don’t need to grow deep because moisture is near the soil surface.
“When they dry out in hot conditions, you leave them open to stressful conditions,” Todey said, speaking on the climate webinar.
It’s a similar story in southwestern Iowa. Aaron Saeugling is an agronomist with Iowa State University Extension. Taylor County was covered by yellow on the U.S. Drought Monitor map July 25, indicating an “abnormally dry” area.
Corn leaves were curling in the heat, he said, and crops were taking a beating from a couple key pests. The thistle caterpillar, gall midge and Japanese beetle were taking a toll on corn and soybeans, Saeugling said. Pests like the thistle caterpillar thrived after a relatively easy winter without harsh cold to kill them off.
“It seems to be a banner year for them,” Saeugling said.
In Nebraska, the dry spell doesn’t compare to 2012 droughts, Mueller said, but farmers should be conservative with their marketing plans, being careful not to overextend contracts and promise bushels you can’t produce.
Irrigators started running on corn fields in the second week of July. Soon soybeans will reach the pod setting stage when they need moisture.
“If you’re rain-fed, there’s not much you can do other than hope for rain,” Mueller said.
He encourages those who irrigate to manage their water well, using soil sensors and weather stations.
“Because overwatering loses you money again,” he said.
Crops were behind in their growth throughout the Midwest. Corn silking was behind schedule, and soybean blooming was well behind normal, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. Late planted soybeans had yet to canopy in the last full week of July, leaving room for weeds to grow.
There’s still hope for a decent soybean crop, Saeugling said. The crop is resilient and late-planted fields have a lot of growing to do in coming weeks.
“We just don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “There’s just a lot that happens in August and September.”
Janelle Atyeo can be reached at email@example.com.